Board Agenda

Board meeting agendas significantly change the quality of decisions, board member engagement, the sustainability of your parochial school, and generosity of your donors.

The key items to think about when creating a board meeting agenda are subjects, timing, framing of the subjects, and the supporting information.

Every subject can be presented as mundane or significant.  The annual budget is a good example.  Let us assume the fiscal year starts January 1.  If the budget is submitted for approval at the December meeting (all of the line items are filled in and the finance committee has approved it), voting on the budget is so mundane it is perfunctory.  It is too late to have a meaningful discussion of options, priorities, or pros and cons of certain decisions.  The majority of members must vote for the budget because no one wants the Christian school to shut down on January 1 due to a lack of a budget.

It is very hard for a board member to find the process engaging. Basically, it is approving the work done by others based on priorities that very few understand.  Seen another way, it sends a message to the voter that board membership is a perfunctory activity.  It is easy to see why most board members are minimally engaged.

Alternatively, if at the March meeting the board members are provided with background information about several initiatives that might be undertaken after January 1 and must be prioritized at the April meeting, preparing to create the budget is engaging.  The significance of the decision-making is obvious.  In April, it will be possible to have a thoughtful discussion of the initiatives and their relative near-term and long-term value.  In May, it is possible to discuss the ramifications of the April decisions and create guidelines for the budgeting process (increase fundraising in the next year sufficiently to raise the reserve by 5% to ensure the ongoing support of initiatives A and B, acquire grants to fund the startup expenses for initiatives C and D, and find a collaborator to provide follow-on services for initiative E, all by October 1).  The board can then be told to expect the draft budget to be presented in September and the budget to be approved in October.

This approach makes creating the budget a collaborative activity between the board and staff.  In March, the staff tells the board what the staff believes to be important to the future of the mission, students, and community.  The board has the opportunity to think about, amend, and prioritize the activities (April).  This gives the board an opportunity to make important decisions and take ownership for the future of the mission.  In addition, the decisions are made based upon what is important without regard for the economics.  The next step is to examine the impact the decisions will have (May).  It also gives the board the opportunity to provide guidance to the budgeting process (setting policy) without dictating how the money is spent.  This process makes the purpose of the budget obvious to the board members and helps them understand the legacy their decision is creating.  As the budget is developed, if there are tradeoffs that must be made, those can be presented to the board during the summer.

The board’s role is to plan, set policy, and monitor activity.  As you can see, when the board’s agenda is carefully considered it is easy for the board to plan (March & April), set policy (April & May), and monitor.  Monitoring occurs in the following year when the staff reports confirm that the value promised in the March discussions was provided and that the priorities and policies set in April and May are being honored.

In addition, when the preceding process is used, the staff has the opportunity to align the activities of the last two months of the current year with the start of next year’s activities.  This creates a smoother start and allows the staff to be more effective.  The advanced planning also reduces stress and helps everyone greet next year’s activities with enthusiasm and optimism.

Next Step:

Use the model above when establishing the board agenda (inform, offer options, set priorities and policy, and enact the decisions)

Use the model for all major actives (fundraising, budgeting, hiring, program development, etc.)

Give the board time to use the wisdom and experience they have to shape the direction of your mission

Establish a partnership with the board

It is impossible for the board to be a good partner without having the knowledge to make good decisions and the time to think about the options.  Most board members know what the responsibilities of the board are (plan, set policy, and monitor activities).  Most of them are frustrated with their inability to carry out those responsibilities in a meaningful way.  When you strengthen the partnership between the board and the staff, you increase board engagement, receive more value from the board members, reduce the board’s temptation to micromanage, provide the board members with a meaningful way to meet their responsibilities, and significantly increase your school’s sustainability.

Most capital campaigns are successful because they use the proceeding process.  One part of their success is gathering the needed funding.  Of equal importance is the level of support created for the programming that results from the capital campaign and the high level of board engagement during the campaign.  Using the same deliberative and structured process will enhance the success of your board’s decisions.

Unlike most budgeting activities, this article places the emphasis on the initiative rather than money.  For that reason, the board discussion is more engaging.

We advocate that you use the same process with every decision you want the board to make.  If that seems like too much work, then the decision is probably too mundane for the board and should be handled by the staff or a committee.  With the mundane, perhaps all you need to do is educate the board about the subject and propose the guidelines (policy) that will make it possible for the staff or committee to make the right decision.

Take It Further:

Looking back over the past three board meetings, which topics could have been left to the staff to handle if the board had been asked to provide the guidance instead of the decision (lead instead of manage)?

Change your board member recruiting to favor individuals who want to lead rather than manage.


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